Star Wars is a film that virtually everybody in western civilization recognizes, and just about everybody has seen. From the vantage point of 2012, the film’s 35th anniversary, it almost beggars belief to think that there was a time when this film was expected to be a failure. And yet, when it was in production and nearing release, almost nobody thought that it would amount to anything. Only one man had any faith in the project; only one man thought that it would not only be a success, but a massive one.
That man was famed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who had nothing to do with the film. George Lucas himself thought he had a disaster on his hands. Continue reading →
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. It’s an old phrase — coined by Mark Twain according to most sources — and just occasionally it seems to be true. Certainly that seems to apply to the film Dog Day Afternoon; released in 1975, it was based on a New York bank robbery that had occurred only three years prior. And if even half of it is true, it’s rather strange indeed.
Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a young man who decides to hold up a bank one hot August afternoon. His partner, Sal, is played by John Cazale. It’s supposed to be a quick ten minute job. But their third partner chickens out before it begins, and things only go downhill from there. Before long, it’s turned into a hostage situation, and a massive media circus. Continue reading →
When I decided to watch Solaris, I knew only a handful of things about it. I knew that it was from 1972, and had been remade in 2002, as an American film starring George Clooney. I knew that it was science fiction and fairly well regarded. I knew that it was in Russian. And I knew that it was nearly three hours long. Those last two combined to give me some pause for concern, as a three-hour foreign film is not something to be entered into lightly. But I’d already missed an opportunity to see it once before, and I felt that in the interest of being well-informed on classic science fiction films, I could not justify overlooking it a second time.
After watching it, my feelings are still somewhat mixed. There is certainly a lot that is praise-worthy about the film, but there is also a lot that made me feel every one of its 167 minutes. Continue reading →
Yet another film that has caused more than a few people to ask me “How have you not seen that yet?”, Alien has long been regarded as both a classic science-fiction film and a classic horror film. The film brought both Sigourney Weaver and director Ridley Scott to prominence, and created one of the most iconic movie monsters — possibly the most iconic of the modern era. It’s been parodied and homaged and sequelized many, many times.
Given its pop-culture ubiquity (at least in horror film fan circuits), there’s a degree of familiarity with it even without having actually seen it. To some extent, watching it might have been even more enjoyable for me if I had been able to watch it fresh, without any preconceptions, the way people viewing it on its initial release would have been. In my defense, the film was released in May 1979, and I was only three months old at the time. Even had my parents taken me to see it, it probably wouldn’t have made an impression at that time. Continue reading →
Since I reviewed The Abominable Dr. Phibes last Saturday, it seemed only appropriate to follow it up a week later with the 1972 sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Vincent Price stars in the title role again, and Robert Fuest is the director of the film once more. Additionally, Peter Jeffreys and John Cater return as Inspector Trout and Superintendent Waverly, though in this film they’re even more comic relief than before, with their dialogue usually being good for a few laughs. Virginia North is replaced as Vulnavia by Valli Kemp; how she returns is as unexplained as her basic nature. Continue reading →
As I mentioned previously, Halloween is Grinch Night is one Halloween special I’m certain I must have seen, yet have no recollection of. The TV special originally aired in 1977 on ABC, and I can’t imagine that was the only time they ever ran it (it won an Emmy, that usually warrants a few repeats over the years.) And I further can’t imagine my parents choosing not to watch it when I was a child; we saw It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure every year they aired. But I have no memory of the Grinch’s second outing, so either ABC stopped airing it when I was still too young to remember, or my family just never caught it somehow. Naturally, I had to correct this lack of memory, and tracked down a copy to check it out.
While How the Grinch Stole Christmas was produced by Chuck Jones, Halloween is Grinch Night was produced by his Looney Tunes cohort, Friz Freleng, as one of the many Depatie-Freleng productions. Dr. Seuss himself, Ted Geisel, also acted as producer and wrote the teleplay. Because Boris Karloff, the original narrator and voice of the Grinch, had passed away several years earlier, he was replaced in both roles by Hans Conried (whose voice you may recognize as Captain Hook from Disney’s Peter Pan.) It’s pretty obvious it’s not Karloff, but it’s still a pretty good sinister voice. Continue reading →
One of my minor regrets about last Halloween season was that I didn’t manage to get any Vincent Price in, as I had intended to do. I’m rectifying that this year, with The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a 1971 film directed by Robert Fuest. Price stars in the title role; it’s a normal role for him in that it’s a highly intelligent villain, but at the same time it has a distinct irregularity. Dr. Phibes is, aside from the occasional assistance from a machine, mute: Price has to do most of his acting without the benefit of his voice, and even during the few scenes where he does get the chance to monologue, it has to be dubbed in afterward, as his character cannot move his lips due to a traumatic accident. Continue reading →
According to Hollywood legend, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made a wager, at Lucas’s instigation, around 1976. Both of them were working on science-fiction blockbuster movies involving aliens that were due to debut the following year. Lucas, facing interference and skepticism from corporate executives, was convinced that his film was going to flop, and hatched the wager as a means of making the best of a bad situation. Hedging his bets, as it were. The wager was this: Whoever had the film with the largest box office take would give the other a small cut of the profits. Lucas was certain that he would wind up getting a cut of Spielberg’s film in this manner. Of course, it turns out he had nothing to worry about, as Lucas’s little film was Star Wars, and reportedly Spielberg still gets checks from Lucas to this day over the bet.
As it happens, though, Spielberg’s film wasn’t exactly a flop either. Close Encounters of the Third Kind met with its own success at the box office, and was critically acclaimed, and has become regarded as one of the preeminent films in the entire genre of science fiction. Continue reading →
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?”
In 1979, the Muppets were at the peak of their popularity. The Muppet Show had been running since 1976, and children and adults both regularly tuned in to watch the silly, surreal antics of Kermit the Frog and his cast of performers attempt to put on a show every week. The time was ripe for Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the rest of the Muppet performers to take the characters to the next level, to produce a movie: The Muppet Movie. The feature-length format allowed them to tell a complete story, the story of how the Muppets first came together. “Well, it’s sort of approximately how it happened,” as Kermit tells his nephew Robin. The movie starts out with the Muppets attending the private screening of their own film, and that subversive meta-humor peppers the entirety of the movie. The movie is filled with lots of other kinds of humor as well, from character humor, pop culture references, situational irony, running gags and hilariously bad puns. It also throws in some sentimentality, some excitement, some music, and a whole herd of guest stars. Continue reading →
It’s been a little while since I’ve added another entry to the Morbid Curiosity Files; it was due. And for today’s selection, I decided to go with an obscure little monster film set in my home state of Oregon: 1977′s The Crater Lake Monster. This film was directed, produced, and co-written by William R. Stromberg, who never directed, produced, or wrote anything else before or since in his career, so you know it’s got to be good.
The film never actually mentions Oregon by name. It still has to be Crater Lake, Oregon, though, because the road markers (clearly made for the film, as they aren’t official signage) clearly identify the location as Crater Lake, and there’s only one Crater Lake in the United States. In actuality, the film was shot at Huntington Lake, California, an artificial reservoir. I looked up its filming location because although the surrounding forestry of Northern California is close enough to pass for Oregon, Huntington Lake is very obviously not Crater Lake. It’s missing a few things that people who have actually been there would know to look for. Minor things like “The Old Man of the Lake”, a large tree stump that’s been floating there for a century. The surrounding tourist-oriented areas. Wizard Island. The crater.